A Good Strange with Illustrator Ryan Humphrey

This post originally appeared on my old blog, OH! Parasite, on December 24, 2013. All images courtesy of Ryan Humphrey.

Ryan Humphrey has made waves with his unique illustrations. He often addresses pop culture references (from The Simpsons to Miley Cyrus to The Fifth Element), turning such cultural fads in to malleable artistic subjects. Through his idiosyntric style--a hybrid between Picasso-esque abstractions, Fauvist color palettes, and his own contemporary aesthetics--Humphrey is able to transform modern media in to an avant-garde artistic muse. Recently, I had the great pleasure to interview Humphrey on his style, artistic process, and current projects.


I tried all kinds of ways of working and did a fine art degree to understand myself as an artist and if it was for me. I left my degree with more questions than answers...Then I applied for a MA illustration degree and finally felt I was at home with my work.

Grace: Your work combines multiple media images in one cohesive drawing. Can you share a little on your creative process? What inspires you and how do you determine which images to use and which to discard?

Ryan: My creative process mainly involves selecting a vast amount of second hand imagery and making my own scenarios. I start out drawing softly the shapes and placement of figures or whatever the subject is then slowly add darker tones and detail and watch the drawing unfold and become something. There is a rough idea as to what I want to draw but most of the time it turns out completely different and that excites me because drawing is unknowing. My inspiration comes from all things that make me laugh and to see people’s reactions. It’s weird how I determine what image works because it boils down to gut reaction. In the moment I see an image that works I feel that it has to be drawn as soon as I'm in that right frame of mind. Most of the time when the images are collected together in my head I see them move around and form something visually in my eyes. That probably makes me sound very strange but a good strange.

G: Do you begin a drawing with a particular concept in mind, or is the message to-be-determined by the viewer?

R: It varies on what type of drawing is happening. Most of the time when I draw more topical subjects I want the concept to be of a humorous one and the view can relate to. Whenever I draw something that is more surreal and with figures in weird shapes then I let the message be unclear and let the viewer decide what is going on and confuse them. Confusing the viewer into a fascination sense is cool and to me it makes them want to view it more.

G: What is the appeal of Moleskine paper as opposed to other paper mediums, like illustration board or Bristol?

R: It’s the yellow tinge the paper has that I really adore. Paper that is pure white is scary because you feel you need to cover the complete space while with moleskine you don’t. It also scans pretty well and the pencil lead feels smooth when shading on it. I’ve tried numerous sketchbooks and sometimes I do work on loose sheets of paper, but to work in a book feels more intimate, and especially so when you show people your book.

G: Are there any artists who have influenced your work throughout the years?
R: The main names that come to mind are: Phil Hale, Peter Doig, Kent Williams, Lucian Freud, Van Gogh, Jenny Saville.

...there [are] around 700+ artists involved with Bartkira...To me I never would of thought an illustration I created could turn out on this scale to be a big thing,

G: Did you always want to be an illustrator, or did you dable in other arts and mediums before discovering your true calling?

R: I always liked drawing as a kid, and never took it too seriously, it was only when I failed everything else that I decided to go into the art world because making images was one thing I liked. I tried all kinds of ways of working and did a fine art degree to understand myself as an artist and if it was for me. I left my degree with more questions than answers but I took a year out to focus on drawing more than anything. Then I applied for a MA illustration degree and finally felt I was at home with my work. Fine art wasn’t bad at all, it helped me understand my theory as to why I draw and what I should draw it was all just a rollercoaster experience of making work.


G: I understand you are working on two continuous projects related to The Simpsons, "Bartkira" and "Barlte Royale." Bartrika is a community project, but Is Bartle Royale or are you working alone?

R: Bartle Royale is a complete single project where I am doing all the illustrating and layouts, it sounds crazy I know but a challenge like this keeps me going. It was going to be a community project but the general idea of it would mean people would have a selected amount of scenes to do and it depended on who got what. I thought I wanted to work on this quicker and have some more control on this than Bartkira.


G: How many members are involved in Bartkira? What is it like working within such a community? 

R: To my knowledge there is around 700+ artists involved with Bartkira which is completely amazing. To me I never would of thought an illustration I created could turn out on this scale to be a big thing, because the original of it all was more personal and more fun. Sometimes seeing things grow that you made is a good thing, and seeing other people’s versions makes me happy, I even saw someone with a Bartkira tattoo and thought ‘this is it, this is the best’


G: Can we expect to see bound Bartle Royale or Bartrika books in the future?

R: am not sure with Bartkira, but that would be amazing if it was. I am currently making issues with Bartle Royale and hopefully in the end have some sort of colour book made where people can buy. I am currently into issue 2 of it, there might be around 10 issues.

Rabid Fire Questions

I like to ask a couple of random questions that don't really pertain to anything. That way fans and readers can get to know you a little more. These are like rapid-fire questions--it's all about your gut response--so don't think about them too long! 

G: What is your favorite animal (mythological or real)?
R: A big ginger cat

G: X-ray vision or the power of invisibility?
R: Invisibility!

G: Do you possess any odd skills?
R: I used to be double jointed and could bend my legs and arms in weird places.

G: If you found a magic lamp with a genie inside and were granted three wishes, what would you wish for?

R: Unlimited supply of moleskine sketchbooks, lots of different printing machines, an extra 3 more wishes

G: Ultimate meal?
R: Sausage and bacon sandwich with a coffee


For more of Ryan Humphrey's work you can check out his official websiteTumblrInstagramFlickr.